China's ByteDance is taking the social media world by storm

Chinese social media apps have struggled to win over users beyond their home turf. TikTok is changing that....

Posted: Oct 19, 2018 10:18 AM
Updated: Oct 19, 2018 10:18 AM

Chinese social media apps have struggled to win over users beyond their home turf. TikTok is changing that.

In the space of just two years, the app has amassed more than half a billion users — around 40% of them outside China — who share short videos of themselves lip-syncing, cooking, dancing or just being silly.

Asia

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

China

Company activities and management

Company strategy

Computer science and information technology

Continents and regions

East Asia

Mobile apps

Mobile technology

Software and applications

Startups

Technology

Companies

Facebook

Instagram

Internet and WWW

Social media

Created by Beijing-based startup Bytedance, TikTok has gained an international edge over China's established social media platforms, such as Tencent's (TCEHY) WeChat, Sina Weibo (WB) and Alibaba's (BABA) Youku.

"What sets ByteDance apart is its success in the social media category, which is dominated by Facebook, Twitter and Snap — all Western companies," said Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at analytics firm Sensor Tower.

Social video apps reached new levels of popularity this year. Three of them are in the top 10 most downloaded apps worldwide, according to Sensor Tower. ByteDance owns two of the three: TikTok and Vigo. The other is Instagram, which belongs to Facebook (FB).

ByteDance's success is attracting big investors. It's reportedly in talks with tech kingmaker SoftBank (SFTBY) about an investment that would value it around $75 billion, a huge jump from the $20 billion valuation it secured last year. That would make ByteDance one of the world's most valuable startups alongside Uber.

ByteDance declined to comment on the reports. SoftBank didn't respond to a request for comment.

Using AI to keep people hooked

ByteDance calls itself an artificial intelligence company. It uses machine learning and algorithms to figure out what people like and give them more of what they want to see.

The company is best known in China for the popular news app Jinri Toutiao, or "Today's Headlines," which it launched in 2012. People quickly got hooked on the app's customized news feeds. Toutiao currently has more than 240 million monthly active users that spend on average 74 minutes per day on the platform.

ByteDance applied a similar formula to Douyin, a video app that launched in 2016.

It has Snapchat-like functions, where people can edit and add filters to 15-second videos before posting them online. The app has even spawned a phrase to describe people glued to their customized feeds: "shua Douyin" or "scrolling through Douyin."

Going global

ByteDance had global ambitions early on. It launched its first international product in 2015, the English-language news app Top Buzz.

Last year, the company's global expansion went into hyper drive. In just 10 months, it bought Los Angeles-based video startup Flipagram, released TikTok, the overseas version of Douyin, and paid $800 million for musical.ly, a lip syncing app popular in the United States and other Western countries.

Flipagram is now known as Vigo, and musical.ly users were moved onto TikTok earlier this year.

Those moves have given it a vast user base spread across Asia, Europe and North and South America.

ByteDance's growing video empire has made it the world's fifth biggest app maker, based on overall downloads, according to Sensor Tower. In the third quarter of 2018, downloads of TikTok were more than five times as high as in the same period a year earlier.

ByteDance says TikTok and Douyin together have more than 500 million monthly active users. That's far more than Twitter (TWTR) and around half as many as Instagram, both of which are blocked in China.

The buzz around TikTok even caught the attention of Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook. During a trip to Beijing last week, he visited ByteDance's headquarters, meeting with people who work on TikTok and Douyin.

Money-making potential

Investors like ByteDance because its hundreds of millions of users attract a lot of advertising money.

ByteDance declined to disclose how much revenue its apps generate, but a source familiar with the company said Toutiao alone pulled in 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) in China last year.

The video apps are even more lucrative because they attract a lot of users in their teens and 20s. That's what makes ByteDance such a threat to more established Chinese social media platforms, according to Xiaofeng Wang, an analyst with research firm Forrester.

"Consumers have limited time and attention. [Whoever] wins consumers especially younger generations will win advertising dollars," she said.

ByteDance also makes money through revenue sharing deals. People on TikTok, for example, can buy digital coins to give to other people on the app — like throwing money in a performer's tip jar. ByteDance takes a cut of those earnings.

Run-ins with the government

ByteDance's founder and CEO is Zhang Yiming, a 35-year-old former Microsoft (MSFT) employee. People who have worked with Zhang describe him as someone who thinks deeply about technology and spends much of his free time writing code. The company's name refers to 0s and 1s dancing together to form a byte, the binary code used by computers.

The startup's meteoric rise has caught the Chinese government's attention.

Like Facebook and Twitter, ByteDance is also battling fake news and inappropriate content.

Regulators shut down Toutiao for 24 hours late last year, alleging inappropriate content. In April, officials ordered that another ByteDance app, Neihan Duanzi, shut down permanently for publishing vulgar posts and displaying "improper public opinion."

ByteDance reacted by issuing a public apology and promising to add thousands more employees to review content.

"Our product took the wrong path, and content appeared that was incommensurate with socialist core values," Zhang said in a social media post at the time.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307332

Reported Deaths: 7095
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20757248
Hinds19869408
Harrison17475302
Rankin13307275
Jackson13095243
Madison9886210
Lee9854169
Jones8289160
Forrest7522146
Lauderdale7185237
Lowndes6261144
Lamar610284
Lafayette6026117
Washington5279132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4440103
Pearl River4418139
Warren4277118
Marshall4267100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4056132
Union403575
Neshoba3984176
Lincoln3869107
Hancock371985
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3177104
Scott310472
Yazoo304268
Alcorn297664
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265679
Wayne261341
Leake260973
Grenada254882
Covington254380
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237647
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182354
Stone179131
Clarke176676
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163130
Yalobusha158636
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125833
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite119941
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105332
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95126
Humphreys94332
Franklin81723
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518588

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753351487
Mobile37698798
Madison33829494
Tuscaloosa25245443
Montgomery23942565
Shelby23094238
Baldwin20617300
Lee15510165
Calhoun14277311
Morgan14137268
Etowah13660345
Marshall11952219
Houston10379278
Elmore9988200
Limestone9806147
Cullman9467188
St. Clair9422234
Lauderdale9208227
DeKalb8745181
Talladega8042171
Walker7087275
Jackson6753110
Autauga6715103
Blount6480135
Colbert6200130
Coffee5397112
Dale4766110
Russell428238
Franklin419882
Chilton4080109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3892146
Escambia387574
Dallas3526149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305475
Lawrence295295
Winston272272
Bibb256258
Marengo248561
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218675
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176741
Monroe171240
Washington163838
Macon154348
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58624
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
53° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 53°
Columbus
Clear
53° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 53°
Oxford
Clear
52° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 52°
Starkville
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 46°
High pressure brings sunny skies and dry conditions for Sunday with highs in the mid 70s. Rain chances build in during the week.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather